That Time I Climbed A Volcano & What It Taught Me About Life

mount batur sunrise hike with bali eco toursLast week, I shared the story of “something funny” that happened while I was in Bali. The something funny was actually not so funny but more a life lesson I learned when the airline lost my suitcase and then I submerged my iphone into a swimming pool. What made it funny was that losing my material possessions was only one of the difficult moments to make up my adventure. There was also a giant lizard that liked to poop on my night stand and the time I had to go to the medical clinic… And then there was the time I thought it would be fun to get up at 2 A.M. and hike a volcano in the dark, so we could watch the sunrise…

Life Lesson: Even with the best of intentions, we’re in the dark about where we’re headed in life. We do our best to plan and prepare but none of us can see what’s up ahead so we just keep climbing, pushing through and, at times, crawling. But if we are willing to stick it out, we get the chance to stand where most never will.

I can’t tell you why “hike a volcano” is on my bucket list. I just remember thinking (while in Guatemala and seeing a volcano in the distance), “I want to go climb that thing!” So when I learned Bali had a volcano you could hike in the dark to watch the sunrise, I was sold.

Our driver and tour guide picked us up at 2:15 A.M. (this was, of course, only two hours after having dealt with the lizard poop fiasco) and as we crept quietly out of the compound, I couldn’t help but wonder what our security guard was thinking as these two western girls snuck off in the night with the locals.

In the back seat of the van, Ruth and I tried to sleep as we rattled along the road. I can’t tell you how long we were actually in the van (because… well…. you know the whole iPhone + pool thing = no concept of time). But I would say it was about two hours. Our little group poured out of the van and started walking. Flashlights in hand, we could really only see the people ahead and behind us (also donning flashlights).

After about 20 minutes of an only slight incline, I saw it. It was a string of lights floating in the distance. If I didn’t know there was a volcano blocking the sky in front of me, I would have thought they were stars. Instead I quickly asked our guide to assure me they were not the flashlights of other hikers on the trail in front of us.   He assured me the vertical line of bobbing lights were just that. I took the next few moments to teach him about “something we like to call a ‘switchback’.” (He was not impressed).

And so, it got hard!  I could probably tell you it’s because I am out of shape BUT let’s just go with the fact that it’s hard to climb a mountain when you can’t anticipate what’s up ahead. Slopes of ash are impossible to gain footing on and the lava rock grips your shoes in a really funny, almost velcro like way. (Have you ever used a pumice stone? Imagine a mountain made of it and then try telling me I’m just making up excuses.)

And now for your personal enjoyment, quotes from my inner monologue…

“What was I thinking? Why on Earth would I think this would be fun? This is fun! This is not fun!”

“I don’t want to do this anymore. My bucket list only says “hike a volcano.” It doesn’t say I have to make it to the top. But I want to make it to the top! I do want to do this. I could rest for a while and finish hiking it after the sun rises…”

“I should have hired a helicopter to drop me at the top and “hiked” back down. That would count as “hiking a volcano”, right? Then I could check “ride in a helicopter” off my list too.”

“There’s nothing on my list about hiking the volcano in the dark… I should rest and climb the rest later. But I don’t want to miss the sunrise. I will be so mad if I did all of this and had to watch the sunrise from halfway up the volcano.   Imagine how lame that story will be to tell.”

“But why did I want to do this? Because it’s awesome. It’s going to be awesome. How can something so exhausting and difficult be awesome? So much of life is exhausting and difficult but it’s still awesome! That’s sort of what makes life awesome. Hmmm… I should write about this….”   

And then, I saw it. The top!  There was a group congregating at a small shack that looked out across the lake, in the direction of the other volcanos and the rising sun. We’d done it! We’d made it to the top. Quickly we made our way to the edge and got comfortable, ready to watch the sunrise.  And then, the guides came over and pointed out a summit to our left (another straight up slope) and told us we were still about “15 minutes from the top”.  Worried about their slow pokes, they offered to bring breakfast down to where we were. Exhausted (and honestly a little irritated), I demanded (despite what the voices in my head were saying) that we would be continuing on. I was not going to quit after coming so far.

And so, fifteen minutes later and almost exactly six years after seeing that first volcano in Guatemala, I made it to the top. And there I stood in the middle of Indonesia, watching the sunrise, surrounded by wild monkeys, drinking hot tea and eating eggs that had just been hardboiled in the volcano’s steam. There, I was, in a place that most people don’t even know exists, let alone will ever see, simply because I chose to dream, take on that challenge, and keep climbing (even in the dark).

Mount Batur Sunrisemount batur monkeysIMG_2242monkeys on the rim of Mount batursunrise mount batur

About the author: Catherine

3 comments to “That Time I Climbed A Volcano & What It Taught Me About Life”

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  1. Kara - May 2, 2015 at 3:16 pm Reply

    It’s official. You are my hero. Also I love the analogy really helpful right now. So thank you. For climbing the volcano (especially that extra 15 minutes) and then writing about it so honestly. I say again, you are my hero.

    • Catherine - May 2, 2015 at 3:38 pm Reply

      You are so funny! Thanks for making me your hero!! I’m so glad you were able to be encouraged by the story!!

  2. Ruth McNulty - February 24, 2017 at 6:40 am Reply

    Still one of my all time favourite blog posts ever!

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